the parx character that is ralph riviezzo or how much is a free coffee

By Dick Jerardi

If you are at Parx for the races anyday, there are some people you will always see because they are there everyday – fixtures, constants, characters.

They have stories from yesterday and yesteryear. Some of them are even true.

Ralph Riviezzo is one of those people at Parx. The Equibase statistics say he has been training horses since 1976. That’s because the statistics only go back that far. Ralph predates the stats.

The stats say he’s had 6,056 starters, 574 winners, 680 seconds, 674 thirds and $7.28 million in earnings for his owners. But Ralph has never been about numbers. He has always been about the stories and the smiles and the laughs.

He was at the track when it opened in November 1974 as Keystone. Prior to that, he was at old Liberty Bell Park in Northeast Philly, closed more than three decades ago and now the site of the Philadelphia Mills Mall.

“When I was galloping horses and training horses at Liberty Bell, I was also in the mounted police in Philadelphia,’’ Riviezzo said.

Of course he was.

It was a while back when he was asked about his career in horse racing and before racing, but it could have been anytime. The stories never end.

“I’d get done training and I would run to the city,’’ Riviezzo remembered.

If he had the right shifts with the police, he had time for mornings at the track.

“It’s been horses all my life,’’ Riviezzo said.

His family had no background in horses, but if you grew up in Roxborough in the 50s like he did, “everybody had horses, like little stables all along the Wissahickon. I got myself into it actually and then I just stayed with the horses all my life.’’

Riviezzo has never had the big horse or anything close. He’s had seven horses earn more than $100,000, but none more than $200,000. So he is the ultimate grinder and he is still there. In 2021, he has 81 starts with 13 wins, 12 seconds, and 14 thirds, with earnings of $266,359. His best year for money was 2019 when his horses earned $551,431.

Ralph knows every part of the game. He started pulling horses shoes off when he was 12, “working with blacksmiths, dressing the hooves.’’

He learned from George Fulton and they worked on horses for the Wideners. They shod all the horses at the Valley Forge Military Academy. He worked on a horse for President Eisenhower.

“Kings Ranch had given him a horse,’’ Riviezzo remembered. “It was called Ike. Shoeing was my passion. Horses were my passion. The mounted police, we went up to 168 horses and we had a couple of horseshoers get hurt and they called me in one day’’ and asked if he could shoe the horses. He could and he did.

They were, Riviezzo explained, shod differently than race horses, “with a hard metal that kept them from slipping on the street.’’

They had a police vehicle: “with a forge in it. We went around the city and kept shoes on the horses.’’

It was, Riviezzo said, “the biggest mounted police force in the country.’’

They led the Thanksgiving Parade every year.

He remembers when Alabama governor George Wallace was at the Spectrum in 1968 campaigning for president. He and another mounted policeman rode their horses up the steps of the Spectrum to “clear about 75 or 100 people who were fighting in the back of the Spectrum. It was a wild night.’’

When Ralph gets on a roll, it is a stream of consciousness that could start anywhere and end anywhere. Being a cop and on the track was the perfect exacta for times lived and stories told.

“The people that you meet, movie stars, actors, athletes ‘’ Riviezzo said. “I trained for some of the 76ers, Henry Bibby. Al Domenico was a trainer for 25-30 years in the (NBA).’’

Like anybody who spends any time at the track, Riviezzo got injured. He would then go see Domenico to help him recover. One time the trainer said Ralph would have to wait because he “had to get Moses Malone in the tub.’’

Ralph was important, just not as important as the centerpiece of the Sixers 1983 championship team.

“It’s been kind of a wild ride,’’ Riviezzo said. “If you want to know something about how I feel, I love horse people. I respect what they do. I love owners, trainers, hot walkers, grooms. It’s seven days a week.’’

Riviezzo was on the PTHA board for 20 years, arguing along with Mike Ballezzi and Sal DeBunda for slots

“And here we are today,’’ Riviezzo said.

A mounted policeman for eight years. On the track for more than a half-century. Ralph Riviezzo, the ultimate Parx character.

And he will be here.           

“Where am I going?’’ Riviezzo said. “I’m a quart low on embalming fluid and they give me a discount in the (track) kitchen, you know what I mean…I go in and I go `how much is a free coffee?’’’

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